Hall Of Famer: The National Indo-American Museum based in Chicago inducted Indra Nooyi to its hall of fame
More than 350 guests attended the Nov. 10 gala of the Chicago-based National Indo-American Museum, NIAM, where former CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi was inducted to the Hall of Fame. The gala was held at the Westin Chicago Lombard in Lombard, Illinois.
Nooyi, whose name consistently featured on listings of the world’s most powerful women for years, will have her oil-on-canvas portrait hung at the prestigious National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., Nov. 15, a rare and possibly first such honor for an Indian-American.
The crowd of older and younger generation of Indian-Americans who attended the NIAM gala eagerly listened to and questioned Nooyi about her successes and challenges, and Nooyi obliged with her frank and down-to-earth answers from her many years in the top of the corporate world.
Those attending opened their wallets generously, and enjoyed the performance by Brown Sugar, a premiere South Asian co-ed a cappella group which mixed the music of Bollywood classics and Punjabi pop, American rock and R&B.
The event was meant to raise funds in support of NIAM’s planned 2020 opening of its first brick and mortar space in Lombard, Illinois donated by Umang and Paragi Patel, who were recognized at the event by Nooyi. The organization also expects to use the funds to preserve and share the diverse spectrum of the Indian American experience through its exhibitions and programs, a press release from the organization said.
Asked about how she overcame gender and racial bias in corporate America, Nooyi said she actually considered them an advantage, an incentive to work even harder just to prove herself.
As for her Indian heritage, she said she never ran away from it. It was something she was proud of, and it made her authentic. Ultimately, if people try to be something other than who they are, they just come across as fake, Nooyi contended.
When a young member of the audience asked what advice she would give women who wanted to be successful in business, Nooyi answered without hesitation, that there was no substitute for hard work and integrity. Nooyi noted how she herself felt as if she was in a hole while others were on a level playing field. The solution -working 24/7.
Lakshmi Menon, founder and board member of NIAM, told Desi Talk Nooyi’s discussion with the audience, which she moderated, “really resonated with the audience. … She articulated all that we Indian immigrants feel in terms of identity and personal and professional challenges.”
Amita Banerji, vice president of NIAM, said more than double the anticipated amount of $100,000 was raised. more than $250,000, according to other organizers, but the amount was still being tabulated, they said.
Nooyi alone donated $50,000 to the cause of establishing the museum, Aarathi Agadi Singh, a NIAM board member and COO of MedGyn, a medical device manufacturer, told Desi |Talk.
“The audience (at the gala) was a representation of what happens when the community gets together and wants to move forward,” Singh said. “They believe in the institution and how it can serve to educate the younger generation,” a number of whom had been invited by Singh to the gala, and many of whom contributed.
“Indra Nooyi’s ordinary words were so extraordinary, delivered in such a simple way, and she was so grounded,” Banerji said.
“She is just an icon. To hear her speak was remarkable,” Singh enthused.
Also present was Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, who presented the Hall of Fame award to Nooyi along with Padma Rangaswamy, president of NIAM. Rangaswamy, in her speech, dwelt on the legacy of Indian-Americans and invited those present to help the community realize how much it is a part of the American fabric, and how important NIAM is as an institution.
“Indra Nooyi was particularly interested in connecting with the younger generation. That was something she asked me before the event – if young people would be there. She was pleased (when she saw so many),” Menon said.
The museum’s Hall of Fame honors individuals whose achievements in their chosen fields exemplify the contributions Indian Americans make to the greater American story, a press release from NIAM said.
“NIAM is proud to recognize her as an example of how Indian Americans are shaping this nation even as they remain true to their roots and cultural heritage,” organizers said.
Others honored in NIAM’S Hall of Fame include Jazz pianist and recipient of the MacArthur ‘Genius’ award, Vijay Iyer inducted in 2016.
Feedback from the audience showed many were excited about bringing more family and friends to next year’s gala, organizers said. “They feel such an institution is really needed,” Singh said.
Among the flagship programs of NIAM is a new initiative, the Gandhi Peace Program, which was designed by Singh and others, for Grades 2 to 5, for the Chicago Public School system. “We are delivering this program to 20 schools this month. One school alone wants 20 classes in this subject,” Singh said, adding that NIAM hopes to spread around the country with chapters in other cities in the future.
“I would love for my children to be able to tell other kids, ‘Let’s go on a field trip to the Indo-American Museum,’,” Singh said.